this is a mini replica of the actual one at the Basilica of San Pietro
There is one aspect of Roman Catholicism that unites believers and divides unbelievers alike. It is not the BVM nor the Blessed Sacrament, while those would have been logical guesses to be sure. No, the epicenter of unity and division is the Papacy. The Roman Pontiff (a.k.a., Holy Father, Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Christ, Supreme Head of the Church, Servant of the Servants of God, etc.) in both his infallibility and primacy personify what Christ said in Matthew 16:18-19
And I say to you: That you are Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.
Whether it is denying infallible papal teaching authority OR disobeying supreme papal governing authority, both are an attack on the ROCK upon which Christ built HIS Church. Vatican I made it quite clear that infallibility is restricted to matters of faith and morals but primacy extends everywhere. The pope's jurisdiction is limitless when it comes to shepherding the sheep. Though not impeccable and not inspired (restricting that charism to sacred authors of the Bible), the Roman Pontiff, nevertheless, has FULL, SUPREME, IMMEDIATE and UNIVERSAL authority to govern the Church. (CCC #882, 937; CIC #331)
Here is the crux of the issue. In his non-infallible capacity as Supreme Head, there is obviously the possibility of poor if not even bad prudential judgment as well as good ones. Furthermore, the pope's authority does not mean his decisions are de facto the best for that time and place. Yet, there is NO HIGHER AUTHORITY. No Ecumenical Council, no emperor or king, no conference of bishops, not even the entire faithful as a whole have the power to depose a pope. There are only two ways to get rid of a bad or incompetent pope: persuade him to voluntarily RESIGN or pray that the good Lord bless him with a happy and SWIFT DEATH.
Deo Gratias, of the 266 popes, only a dozen at most turned out to be scandalous and corrupt abusers of their office. The majority have been adequate to outright outstanding, with a substantial number even being canonized as saints.
When I hear a Catholic second guess and papal decree, whether of the past or present, I am greatly disappointed. While I personally may disagree with the prudential judgments of the pope, if it concerns faith and morals, even though not intended to be infallible, I must still give religious submission of intellect and will. RESPECT demands that even the papal decisions on matters NOT of faith and morals be treated with respect. Hence, I may personally disagree but I keep it to myself rather than incite opposition. If a pontiff is acting immorally or grossly imprudent, then individuals can address him discreetly and respectfully, just as an adult child would their own biological father. Shaming or humiliating him is not a viable option. Saint Catherine of Siena was able to convince Pope Gregory to leave Avignon, France and return to Rome but she did so not by having press conferences and embarrassing the pontiff. She met with him and spoke to him in person. Today, some are content to attack the pope on their blogs or in their print articles or on radio or television.
I have heard both sides attack the pope. Liberal dissidents attacked Pope JP2 when he canonized Msgr. Josemaria Escriva. Ultra-traditionalists have repudiated the upcoming beatification of Pope JP2 by Pope Benedict XVI and openly disavow his possible canonization. In both cases you have examples of heresy. Papal infallibility is invoked in every papal canonization. It was not always the case in the ancient church when acclamation was the norm. But for recent centuries only the Pope canonizes. Some cases of beatification and canonization may have been sped up and others slowed down. Does not matter. When the final decision is made to canonize, the Pope declares that person IS in heaven. He does not canonize everyone in heaven and heaven is not populated only by the canonized, but canonized saints are REAL and they are IN HEAVEN. So, if and when Pope John Paul II gets canonized by one of his successors, no one has the competency to deny or reject it. PERIOD. Same applies if any other Pope is subsequently canonized, like Pius XII, Paul VI, etc. If two post mortem miracles occur via their intercession, how can anyone cry foul? The final decision is the Pope's. Likewise, what language the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is celebrated, which direction, etc., are all part of the Pope's PRIMACY. Some liturgical decisions may not be the most prudent and they are not infallible but they are FINAL as long as the current pontiff reigns.
It is irksome that some on the far left and some on the far right consider themselves more Catholic than the pope. Even a bad pope is still a valid and licit pope. His authority is not ex opere operantis but from his office. You and I may have made different prudential judgments had we been pope, but that is all theoretical and hypothetical. Only the actual pope has real authority. You do not have to like any particular pope but we must obey each and every one of them. All deserve respect and obedience. Easy to obey the authority of someone you like and agree with, but ask any soldier, sailor, airman or coast guardsman: how easy is it to obey the officer you dislike or disagree with? Unless it is an immoral (and thus illegal) command which I can and must disregard, then all other legitimate orders must be adhered to all the way.
When Pope John Paul II issued ORDINATIO SACERDOTALIS, it was an example of Ordinary papal Magisterium (as opposed to Extraordinary, i.e., ex cathedra) and as then Cardinal Ratzinger explained, it contained INFALLIBLE TEACHING that only baptized males can be ordained. Those who dissent from this are in the same league as those who dissent from HUMANAE VITAE. Papal teaching on contraception and the ordination of women are doctrinal and they involve the MAGISTERIUM. Other issues like altar girls and Communion in the hand are non-doctrinal but disciplinary. One does not have to like the decisions but we must abide by them until rescinded by another pope. It is not unlike the relationship with my Dad. I did not always like or agree with every opinion and decision of his, but I was the son and he was the father and head of the family, so guess who had to be obeyed and respected? Some may call it a form of Ultramontanism. I call it CATHOLICISM. Jesus gave the KEYS to Peter. Not the entire Twelve and not even his beloved best friend, John. Peter alone was given the keys. Those symbolize the keys to the royal treasury where the king's gold is both protected and dispensed and the key to the royal prison to incarcerate the king's enemies and to release prisoners. Those keys were given to the Prime Minister. He acts in the name of the monarch and by his authority. Likewise, the keys entrusted to Saint Peter, to lock and unlock (bind and loose) are vehicles of Divine Divine Justice and Mercy. The keys on the papal flag and seal have more significance than the triple tiara. Both however symbolize the fullness of papal authority to teach, to govern and to sanctify.
As we celebrate the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, it is important to remember the value of the cathedra, the chair. When Pontius Pilate sat on the chair, he represented Caesar. When he stood, he was a private citizen. The chair is a sign of authority and Catholics must recall that the Church is not like secular governments that have parliaments or congresses. The supreme executive, legislative and judicial authority is the Bishop of Rome and he delegates authority to his subordinates accordingly. There is no such thing as loyal opposition, shadow governments or vote of no confidence. The Church Hierarchy is a chain of command and the government of the Church resides with the Pope who is assisted by the bishops in union WITH him. If a bishop severs his unity with the Successor of Saint Peter, then that Bishop has cut himself off from the Mystical Body of Christ. He is still a valid bishop but he has no more authority to govern or teach. Sadly, we have many priests, deacons, religious and professional theologians who make themselves 'pope' and pretend as if the Body has not been harmed by this serious self-inflicted wound.
UBI PETRUS IBI ECCLESIA
(where Peter is, there is the Church)
Protestant Reformers did not like it and neither do contemporary dissidents, heretics, apostates and schismatics. Stay with Peter and you stay with the Church, the Bride of Christ. When Pope Benedict XVI visited England, it was not just the sovereign of Vatican City who crossed the Channel but the Vicar of Christ on Earth and the Visible Head of the Catholic Church. Peter came to Great Britain as he did to the United States. No matter who the occupant of the Chair may be, while he is there, he is our leader, our shepherd, our Holy Father.
VIVA IL PAPA